Daniel Boone's Life as a Land Surveyor Seldom Examined

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Daniel Boone's Life as a Land Surveyor Seldom Examined


Much has been written about Daniel Boone the explorer, but not much about Boone the Surveyor. Back in 1954, Williard Rouse Jillson, Vice President of the Kentucky Historical Society, published a small volume on this phase of Boone's life, entitled "With Compass and Chain." This article is based on Jillson's book. Jillson says that Boone became deputy surveyor under Col. Thomas Marshall, the Fayette County surveyor, not long after the Indian invasion of Kentucky in 1782, best known for the siege of Bryan's Station and the battle of Blue Licks. At this time Boone was nearly 50 and was serving as sheriff of Fayette County and lieutenant of its militia. At that time there were three counties in what became Kentucky in 1792, Fayette, Jefferson and Lincoln: all were part of Virginia. There was no Madison County at that time. Surveying was dangerous in those days, Indians lurked in every forest. In the summer of 1774, Boone had gone from Cumberland Gap to Harrod's Fort to the Falls of the Ohio to warn surveying parties of the uprising in the making of the Ohio Indians. Among the surveyors to lose their lives to Indian rifle balls were Captain Hancock Taylor and Colonel John Floyd. Also killed in the woods was John Filson, historian. Boone survived his years in the wilderness and died a natural death at 85. The urge to acquire new lands in the district of Kentucky increased the demand for Boone's services as a surveyor as well as a scout. In December of 1782 he served as a land marker on several large surveys made by John Shelby, Jr. Also members of that crew of chainmen were Charles Calloway and Isaacs Shelby (later Kentucky's first governor). In January of 1783, Boone ran his own survey for Leonard Hall, a preemption boundary of 400 acres in Fayette County. He remained active in surveying during 1784, 1785 and 1786. He executed 150 surveys for emigrants during these years. Many of these early surveys are still on file in the Kentucky Land Office in Frankfort. One page in Jillson's book shows the famous sketch of Fort Boonesborough in 1775. Under this sketch, Jillson says, "It was while living in this fort with a come and go lot of landseekers and settlers that Daniel Boone became familiar with the practice of land surveying. His intimate knowledge of water courses and terrain of the surrounding country on both sides of the Kentucky River made him a very desirable assistant on many an important survey. he demands for his services as chain man or marker of course greatly exceeded his ability to comply. Under such circumstances it was easy for him to obtain competent instruction in the matter of making a land survey, if he would agree to go along as one of the party. After he built his station late in October 1779 near the present day village of Athens in Fayette County, this dwelling became Boone's headquarters, first as an assistant and later, after 1783, as a commissioned land surveyor." In the summer of 1783, Daniel Boone was made Deputy Surveyor of Lincoln County under Colonel James Thompson. The territory of this county lay south of the Kentucky River and included Fort Boonesborough at the mouth of Otter Creek. He made many surveys in what is now Madison, Estill and Garrard counties. In 1784 he used his sons, Jesse and Daniel, as chain-men and his son-in-law Joseph Scholl (married to Levina) as land marker. Boone was paid only about $2.75 per day for his surveying. He did not get rich and eventually lost all his own land, moving thereafter to Missouri.


Dr. Fred Engle




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Dr. Fred Engle, “Daniel Boone's Life as a Land Surveyor Seldom Examined,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed May 19, 2024, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/954.